The Turkish people's overwhelming vote for a new Constitution is less a ringing endorsement of that charter than of Gen. Kenan Evren, who automatically becomes president for a seven-year period. If that may seem strange to many in the West, it is understandable in Turkey's terms. In two short years General Evren and the military junta he heads have managed to stabilize the economy, stop the raging violence, and restore a sense of law and order to a society that seemed to be running out of control. Turks clearly respect the general for that.
In light of his popularity, it is regrettable that the constitutional referendum and the presidential election were not held separately. This would have avoided any charges of railroading and provided a more creditable democratic basis for the presidency. It is clear that General Evren would have won handily running on his own, and even the new Constitution no doubt would have fared well, even though criticism of the document was suppressed.
For all its weaknesses, the new charter seems to be a step in the right direction - returning Turkey to civilian rule under a politically more disciplined parliamentary system. Certainly it is far from an ideal instrument in Western terms. The presidency is given broad, even authoritarian powers. There are potentially repressive restrictions on personal rights and freedoms.One provision - banning all members of Turkey's last Parliament from politics for five years and all major political leaders for 10 years - is unusual, to say the least. Yet it is relevant to recall that in the days before the 1980 bloodless coup Parliament was often completely immobilized and the political process reduced to chaos.
Final judgment will have have to await implementation of the Constitution. Some of the provisions concerning labor and press already were modified and, now that General Evren has scored such a resounding personal success, he can afford to be generous and flexible in drawing up the political party and other laws in preparation for elections within 18 months. It is important for him to keep up the momentum toward a restoration of democracy and to show that Turkey has not abandoned the highest ideals set by the highly revered founder of the modern state.
Most observers credit General Evren with sincerely wanting to return power to the civilians and to help the nation function more democratically. Turkey has had three military interventions since the time of Kemal Ataturk and General Evren was not keen on this latest one. But he apparently is determined to make sure that, when the civilians again take over, the political system itself will promote responsible leadership rather than disorder and stalemate. In other words, the military want Turkish society to function democratically - but effectively as well.
Whatever misgivings those in the West may have, the Turkish people clearly agree. And they, after all, are the voice that counts.